Don Swaim, 11/12/06.
BILL PALEY AND ME. I posted a Time Magazine cover of CBS founder William S. Paley on the main page of the WCBS Appreciation Site. Mr. Paley's front page appearance was on September 19, 1938. I was two years old on that very date. I had two inauspicious meetings with Mr. Paley after I joined WCBS in 1967. One was in person, the other by proxy.
Here's the story of my personal meeting with Mr. Paley. His office was on the thirty-fifth floor of the thirty-six-story CBS headquarters building (Black Rock) on W. 52nd. Street. The corporate lawyers were on the top floor. According to legend, Mr. Paley reserved for himself the floor below the lawyers because, if the roof leaked, the lawyers would get wet, not Mr. Paley's art collection. He displayed a good portion of his modern art in his office, something you can do when you're rich and successful. He also displayed a terrific collection of antique microphones.
One day, Mr. Paley walked into the CBS Building from the 53rd Street side carrying a brief case in each hand, and went to the express-elevator side of the building. [express elevators went all the way to the top, stopping only on twenty; local elevators stopped at all the floors] I happened to be in the elevator bank intending to go to the twentieth floor, location of the employee cafeteria (51/20 Club). [we had a lot of perks in those days, including an on premises nurse and doctor] Mr. Paley and I stepped into the same elevator. I recognized his elegant presence instantly, but I was dumbfounded, tongue-tied, until Mr. Paley, his arms loaded, said, "Would you please press thirty-five." "Yessir," I managed to croke. We rode in silence until I stumbled off on the 20th floor. If I hadn't been so intimidated, so confused, so stupid, I might have chatted him up, and maybe made something of myself.
At least I'd exchanged two sentences with him.
The second instance occurred in 1979 when Mr. Paley published his memoir, As It Happened. I went to Brentano's Book Store on Fifth Avenue and bought a copy (Doubleday, $14.95), and took it to Mr. Paley's office, asking the secretary if Mr. Paley would sign the book for me. She told me to leave it. I went back the next day and, yes, he'd signed it, with my name and the words, "all good wishes." However, it wasn't the same book I'd bought, which had been pristine, but someone else's copy, which was a little used, as if someone had actually read it. Nevertheless, I was delighted to have the book. My boss at the time, Lou Adler, learning I had a signed book by Mr. Paley, went to a bookstore and bought one too, and asked me to get it signed for him.
Mine's a pretty slim connection to William S. Paley. I wish I could have hobnobbed with Babe Paley, Bill, and Truman Capote in places like Bermuda but, under the circumstances, since I wasn't sure I'd go anywhere out of Ohio, I guess it ended okay. Capote's was a bitter/sweet finale. His hardly disguised story ("La Cote Basque") of Mr. Paley frantically trying to dispose of a stained mattress led to Capote's downfall with the people he craved to associate with. This is more a relection of Capote's duplicity than Mr. Paley's alleged infidelity.
Mr. Paley was instrumental in American broadcast history, and a solid supporter of WCBS, which in his memoir, writes that he had to order his opposed underlings to convert the station into an all-news operation. Mr. Paley's move saved WCBS -- and gave me a decent job.